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Celtics are picking up steam

With Pierce OK, they’re no longer on their heels

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / February 9, 2012
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Three weeks into the season, there were few thoughts of championship showdowns or even high playoff seedings for the Celtics. But after a 5-9 start, they have reestablished their winning ways and also started to form an identity.

The team’s turnaround mirrors the recovery of Paul Pierce, who missed most of preseason training and the first three games of the season with a heel bruise. As Pierce’s conditioning has improved, he has found a shooting rhythm and also displayed an all-around game that allowed the Celtics to succeed for an eight-game period without Rajon Rondo.

Pierce passed Larry Bird for second place on the Celtics’ all-time scoring list - he now has 21,797 points - during a 94-84 win over Charlotte Tuesday, the team’s ninth victory in 10 games.

But there is little time to savor that accomplishment. Next up for the Celtics are games against the Lakers (tonight), at Toronto (tomorrow), and versus Chicago (Sunday).

The Celtics have not defeated the Lakers in a regular-season game at home since a 107-94 victory Nov. 23, 2007. At that time, the economic meltdown was still heating up and “Banknorth’’ still figured into the TD Garden naming rights.

The Celtics have revamped the team since then. In fact, only Pierce, Rondo, Ray Allen, Marquis Daniels, and Kevin Garnett, remain from the 2009-10 team that came within a game of winning the championship against the Lakers.

The revamped bench has energized the Celtics and contributed to an on-court rebranding. The second unit’s athleticism and commitment to defense has allowed the Celtics to shift into another gear, augmenting the qualities of the veterans and also allowing them to take the breathers necessary to prepare for the postseason.

This game against the Lakers might not be a title series preview, but it should provide a gauge for the Celtics as they attempt to improve their playoff seeding.

“That’s what history is made of, two teams trying to get a championship,’’ said Mickael Pietrus after Tuesday’s game. “I can’t wait for Thursday, it’s going to be a great game.

“And I think that’s what we need right now to take our game to the next level. We’ve been playing extremely well, so I think it’s going to be a good game.’’

The Celtics were in a celebratory mood after the Charlotte game. It was their fifth straight win and the first time this season they achieved consecutive double-figure victory margins.

“I think we’re a little unhappy where we are right now,’’ Pierce said. “You know, we don’t want to be the seventh seed.

“We feel like we should be in the top three or four teams in the Eastern Conference. But I’m happy with the way we’ve been playing of late.

“This is the team I’ve come to expect, especially from the beginning of the year, to be playing like this. We are starting to put some things together. We are starting to play better basketball on both ends of the court.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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